China accounted for 90 percent of bitcoin trade just one year ago But with Beijing banning initial coin offerings or ICOs and regulators shutting down bitcoin exchanges there, Japan is setting out on a different path, embracing the crypto movement

Bitcoin trade here in Japan accounts for nearly half the global trade volume, compare that to 25 percent in the US The number has surged since the government passed a new law earlier this year, recognizing the digital currency as a legal form of payment That law encouraged some big retailers here to partner with bitcoin exchanges and begin accepting the digital currency There's already more than 4,500 stores that let you pay with bitcoin here, and the Nikkei says that number could increase five-fold by the end of the year

So we’ve recruited Mai Fujimoto, who’s also known as Miss Bitcoin here in Japan, to take us to some of these stores that are accepting the digital currency You ready to go shopping? Yes, sure Okay, let's head out Let's go Mai's become a type of 'crypto evangelist' in Japan, blogging and tweeting about all things bitcoin

Her nickname? A way to familiarize people with what was largely an unfamiliar space until recently You started investing in 2011 How much was bitcoin then? About 1,000 yen 1,000 yen? That's roughly 10 US

dollars, a price that's jumped more than 700 times since Here's 10,000 yen Okay I'll give that to you And then how do I get that in bitcoin? Okay, so this is your QR code and I read this QR code

Yeah, that's it This is Bic Camera, it’s one of the biggest electronics stores right here in Japan and they just started accepting bitcoin in April So we’ve got our bitcoin on our phone We’re going to go spend some money So that's

00336 bitcoin, it basically amounts to 1,803 yen I did manage to get a very cute towel Polka-dotted And all this shopping is kind of making me hungry So Mai, do you know of a good restaurant around here that accepts bitcoin? Yes, I know of a sushi restaurant near here

Sushi restaurant? Okay, let's go there Fatty tuna and mackerel aren't the only things on the menu here A bitcoin ATM greets customers looking to top up their digital wallets In your daily routine, how much of what you use is bitcoin and how much do you pay in cash or credit card? Maybe, 90 percent I pay not bitcoin I only use bitcoin to send money overseas

Mai says regulations built trust in the currency, but people aren't necessarily using it to replace cash Bitcoin's still considered an investment, not an everyday currency here Many people have bitcoin now, now buy bitcoin Maybe we need time to use bitcoin, so maybe they have to learn more about bitcoin That curiosity's led to an increasing number of public seminars like this one on ICOs

Hardcore hackers aren't the only ones here, but housewives, bitcoin newcomers, even professional matchmakers like Chieko Date She tells me her son encouraged her to invest, and she has 2 million yen in four currencies now Japan hasn't been without problems Three years ago, the first major bitcoin exchange 'Mt Gox' collapsed and declared bankruptcy after hackers raided its accounts

That's partly why regulators are responding with stricter rules this time, requiring exchanges to maintain minimal capital reserves, separate customer accounts and establish anti-money laundering and 'know your customer' or 'KYC' practices Bar owner Mike Verweyst says those rules aren't pushing his customers away from the digital currency for now He processes bitcoin payments every day It’s surprising to see in Japan, they don't really seem to be the first to adapt to new concepts like this In fact, they shy away from change mostly, but maybe they’re going to grab it and run with it, I hope

And with bitcoin still largely banned in China, there's plenty of opportunity for Japan to take the lead